Early in 2023, we received the very sad news that professor Will de Ruijter passed away on 12 January. As you can read in the In Memoriam, Will was not only one of the founders of IMAU and former dean of the Faculty of Physics (now a department of the Science Faculty); he was also a world-renowned and well-respected physical oceanographer. And he was my promotor and mentor.
There are many people who owe Will for his support and positive energy. I owe my career to him. He was the person who sparked passion and love for the ocean.
The first time I met Will was in the lecture hall. He taught Introduction to Physical Oceanography to us, first-year students in Utrecht. And I was immediately captured by his energy. There stood a sailor, beard and all, who told us about the roaring ocean. Who in his lectures took us to distant ocean currents. In my memory it even smelled a bit salty during those lectures.
In an interview with Claudia Wieners for the A-Eskwadraat magazine, Will explained that he thoroughly enjoyed the raw power of storms at sea. Once, he experienced a hurricane while onboard a research vessel. Most of the crew were sick in bed, but Will and the expedition leader stood side by side on the bridge and loved it. Will was filming, and when a big wave came in, they yelled Keep that thing rolling!
Will's passion for the ocean went beyond science. As a mathematician, he wanted to capture the currents in formulas. And as an adventurer, he wanted to feel and experience the ocean.
My last big project with Will was Music by Oceans. In 2017, together with composer Stef Veldhuis we developed a series of compositions for string quartet. The compositions are based on data from robotic Argo floats in the ocean, for which Stef then developed a musical note scheme. When an Argo float drifted south, it produced a certain tone. If the float drifted north, it was a different tone. In this way, the Argo floats and Stef co-wrote the music. And this was all Will's initiative.
You can still listen to one of the pieces at musicbyoceans.org. As I re-played it this month, I realized how well this project fits Will's passion for the ocean. Connecting technology and science to the arts and feeling. That's what I'll remember the rough-and-tumble professor for.
Erik van Sebille